Prickett discusses upcoming book

by Amelia Acosta | 4/26/11 10:00pm

by Katharine Pujol and Katharine Pujol / The Dartmouth

The book which features original works of literature in 14 different languages alongside their English translations was inspired by Prickett's desire to "rethink certain academic structures" and to answer a number of questions related to the study of Romanticism, he said.

"There is a persistent question of what Romanticism means, and whether there is such a thing as Romanticism," he said. "Many wonder if we can describe such a multitude of different facets of human thought with this single term."

Production of the anthology involved many problems and lengthy debates, according to Prickett. He struggled with how to handle translations, how to organize the texts and which texts to include, Prickett said.

The individuals who helped Prickett organize the anthology eventually settled on a series of eight themes with which to organize the different texts, Prickett said.

"We used the themes of art and aesthetics, the self, history, language, hermeneutics and theology, nature, the exotic and science," he said. "We included a preface with each theme and showed which countries had contributed texts to each one."

The eight themes touched upon several major events that occurred during the Romantic Era, including the French Revolution, the advent of modern psychology and the discovery of Sanskrit and dinosaur bones, all of which were "absolutely essential ingredients" to the study of romanticism, Prickett said.

While organizing a conference to brainstorm plans for his anthology, Prickett eschewed the traditional academic conference structure, he said.

"Every conference has the academic superstars who jet in late in special cars, present their paper and leave without talking to anyone," Prickett said. "The most interesting things at a conference are the ones that happen outside of the lecture walls. I wanted a venue that was collegiate in the sense of allowing everyone to talk freely in a beautiful setting."

Prickett chose to hold his planning conference at a Scottish castle, gathering 27 participants, of whom approximately 20 attendees were leading academics in Romanticism. The location was well suited for his purpose, Prickett said.

"The castle was only an hour from the Glasgow International Airport, but once I'd taken the keys to my van, no one could escape," he said. "All of the thinking was really centralized, and this was when the idea was born of actually trying to put together the leading forms of Romanticism in Europe."

Prickett originally received criticism for the decision to present his work as an anthology, he said.

"There are those who would argue that cutting things into bits is immoral, unacademic and essentially bad manners," Prickett said. "But I would argue that no work of art should itself be completed, but rather it should always reach out and suggest different things."

Due to the multitude of sources Prickett drew from, his editors eventually decided to present the original texts on the left page on the book, paired with an English translation on the right, according to Prickett.

"We were not going to play the translation game, especially seeing as most Romantics say that translation is absolutely impossible," he said. "But we wanted to have the English there because any modern scholar in Europe would at least be able to read English."

With the two different languages on a single set of pages, printing was a "nightmare," according to Prickett.

"When we got the first draft, the lines of text weren't opposite each other and we had to send it all back," he said. "The printing took place in Bombay and we used an old Hungarian trick of using illiterate type-setters, which usually produces extremely accurate texts. Even now, there are quite a few errors."

During his lecture, Prickett defended the substance of the book, stating that the inclusion of all potential works and languages would more than "double" the current length of the book.

"This is one of those areas where the more you know, the more you become aware that you are only scratching the surface," he said. "Of course, there were things that I wish I could have included, but I don't think any of the decisions we made were fundamental mistakes. This should definitely be an ongoing project. I've already promised the Croats a small section if there is a second volume."

Although the finished text is of "considerable length," editors had to make many difficult decisions on what to exclude, Prickett said. He cited the exclusion of texts written in languages from the British Isles other than English, which would eliminate anything written in Welsh, for example.

"Each choice forces out other options and means that you have to make another ruthless decision," he said.

The text will likely serve as an enormous resource for Romanticism professors, Prickett said.

"I've found that I would use less than 10 percent of the material in a given term," he said. "But it's marvelous as a cross reference, to look at how the Chinese and the Polish are thinking in either similar or different ways."

Given the anthology's length and $350 pricetag, the editors used different standards for the collection's success than they would have with other texts, Prickett said.

"To my surprise, the book is selling well, but then again, selling well means that it has sold 150 copies," he said.